Bat Shlomo, April 11
Getting out of Tel Aviv airport was like last time, only more so. It is not "Lod" any more--"Tel Aviv Ben Gurion" is the official name, with a prominent bust of Ben Gurion's head in the entry hall. Jonathan was waiting at the exit, quite recognizable, accompanied by a handsome young man with straight black hair and a devil-may-care grin, who I guessed had to be Ofer, and he was. Ofer came with his dad just to see us: that same night, at midnight, he would fly to Peru for a 3-week rafting trip on a wild river--I forgot the name, but it has level 5 rapids (he's never done any rafting before). For 3 weeks he will be with the rafting expedition, then for the next 5 he planned to tour Peru and Bolivia. He knows only a little Spanish "but there are Israelis everywhere." Twenty-one years old, and when he comes back he will work as a mechanic ("mechona'ee", not of cars but big machinery), work he learned in the army and in school.
Like last time, only more so. Israel's highway #1 now has 8 or so lanes, carrying such heavy traffic that we were often stuck and waiting (electrical signs on overpasses warn of congestion ahead, but by the time you see them you usually have no choice but to become part of it). Huge numbers of cars, high rise buildings of which one looked to have 45 or so floors, and a fast Haifa-Tel Aviv railroad, following the highway for a while. When I thought we must be close to Mikveh Israel we were in fact way north of it, have passed the "Hatikvah" quarter and were east of the "Kiriyah"--and areas I remember seeing as plowed fields looked like central downtown.
Gradually the road bent north, and by Herzliah we were passing "Israel's Silicon Valley," still densely built up. It many ways it felt like America transplanted--even the sign "Shomrey Mishkal" and the "Beyt Ha-Pancakim."
We passed a few orange groves, and then came the high-rise buildings of Netanya on the horizon-and after them, the sands of Giv'at Olga and the spur of the Carmel, the first familiar landmarks. Faradis however looks like a town--fancy buildings, some with shingled roofs ("they learned those styles building houses for us"), then the valley of Shfeya and Bat Shlomo. The pedestrian overpass above the highway, linking both parts of Bat Shlomo, has been rebuilt, and at a light past it (the highway now has 4 lanes) we turned off. We drove to the new "Bat Shlomo" over speed bumps ("passey har'adah") about which Jonathan complained ("you have those too?") to the top of the hill, where Rachel met us outside her house, next to the water tower at the top of the settlement, as far from the road as it went.
The country has grown enormously, but the problems seen 16 years ago remain. High tech is doing very well, but ordinary exports are down and unemployment is about 10%, while workers are imported to do low-paying dirty jobs. Jonathan does not care for Barak--"he solved nothing, and wants to give away the Golan and the southern Lebanon. Bibi would win if elections were held today." We all meet in Rachel's home, which 16 years ago was only an unfinished frame. It is complete now, and nicely furnished, "we are a home-conscious society." Soon parts of the family assemble: Arik, a handsome young man (27) who lives in Chedera (70-80,000 people) and works on software for estimating vehicle value. His wife Adi has a day-care center--we meet her the next day with curly Roni and 7-month-old wide eyed Shai. Today Tal is here, and his wife Rachel, another Shai (1.5, big-eyed like the mother's Morrocan kin) and 6-year old Ad (?), very shy. Tal, skinny with a receding hairline, works on software for modernizing old aircraft, and his company has been doing so well that starting this weekend they are flying every employee for a week's vacation in Turkey. Suzy also arrives-smiling as always, the same Suzy I remember though I don't recall her hair so white--and gradually we sit down with refreshments--bureikas, rugalach, fruit--and chat.
Rachel later gives us the downstairs apartment, usually rented out, standing somewhat bare. The house is nice, but already seems in need of a lot of maintenance. From the windows at the end of the living room one sees the busy Wadi Milkh highway, and Mt. Hurshan, across it. On the hill behind the house is a free range farm, and the bellows of its cattle can be heard all day. The neighbor living on that side raises horses.**************
After a late lunch Eli went to lie down--after all, his plane arrived from Romania after midnight, he came home around 1 and was up until after 5 am--Audrey came down to do her excercises, and by and by we too fell asleep, she with her head on my shoulder.
Later I got up and walked around the block: houses dot the hill--as big or bigger than Eli's, some with nicely kept gardens--with big open areas between them. Yesterday was a real chamsin, and today an easterly dry breeze continued, but it is weakening and I can see high clouds already drifting westward. The khamseen is ready to "break" into rain--"but usually not much rain, just a couple of hours" says Rachel whom I met when I came back, wheeling out little Shai. We walk around and talk: she is 50, Eli 55, and about the future she is unsure. "We might have a quieting down of relations with the Arabs, but real peace--that is far."
We get home just as a sunburned balding middle aged neighbor named Yoram pulls in with his van, to retrieve machinery he had stored with Eli. He is a mechanical engineer and started a company, but "almost went bankrupt" and was now looking for a job. Not easy, he tells me, because Israel is in the third year of an economic slump. High-tech is doing well, but textiles and machinery cannot compete on the open market with Europe, America and above all Asia, "even Jordan is beginning to set up low-wage industry." The government "is doing nothing."****************
One change I note--life here is almost provincial, cut off. Israelis used to be addicts of news, of papers, radio--also of books and anything written. "We have heard all the news we need" says Rachel on our walk, "even in Thailand (which they visited a few years ago, a big tour through the land, an island in the south, the Mekong, an elephant ride, and of course Bangkok), Israel was in the news every day. The Thais felt that Israel was 2nd biggest country in the world, after the USA."
Be it as it may, I hear a lot of family talk--the family is very close--but no news, no radio, music ot TV, the books seem hardly used, and what books there are seem to be old. Talking to Hila and Zevik, who appeared this morning, I got a decidedly non-academic outlook. They did not find school interesting, did not remember much, and seemed to be drifting rather than set on a definite course. Hila had studied to be a dental technician, but did not care to work as one. She has been to Romania to help her dad, and I was not sure what she was doing at the time. Zevik has his mom's point nose and his straight hair is combed back and held with an elastic diadem--giving him a girlish look. His motorcycle is outside the door, covered with a tarp, all one can see is that it definitely needs a new front tire. He works on deliveries in Zichron Yaakov-I think.
Later at dinner I find his licence was suspended for a month, for driving 90 kph in an area of road repair, where the speed limit had been lowered to 50. He and his brother argue about him driving while suspended--for he may not legally drive even a car. "I won't bail you out if you are jailed" Eli tells him.
Thursday morning, 13 April
Hot again, clouded over. I got up quietly for a walk around the block--the family was still in bed, even though a radio was playing somewhere. All this puzzles to me. What happened to the Jewish tradition of study, of self-education? Where is the spirit of old Israel? In the evening Eli took us to Zichron, where the old main street had been turned into a sort of tourist mall. Very nicely paved with stones, boutiques and coffee houses, in one of which he treated us to ice chocolate or ice coffee. One house is that of Sarah and Aaron Aharonson, now turned into a museum--but it was closed at that time of the day. So far, evenings have been the most pleasant time of the day, that is when the air gets cool and a breeze blows.
Jonathan arrived around 9:30 and took Rachel with us--she would call her daughter later in the day on her cell phone, to pick her up in Yokne'am. We drove down Wadi Milkh, which looked relatively unchanged (except for the divided 4-lane highway), to the turn off to Daliya, and then up to the Carmel. Jonathan had a client in Daliyat-al-Carmel, a grading contractor (of the big Halabi clan, to which also Rafik Halabi belongs; Rafik is still a TV announcer), and wanted to drop something off.
Daliya has become a virtual city, with many sumptuous homes. It covers several hills and the valleys in between, its main street is lined with shops, and it has tourists and commercial activity--on the whole looking much more prosperous than Bat Shlomo. So many cars are around, that finding a parking spot was a chore. Signs were mostly in Hebrew-with some Arabic-and if I had not known better, I would not have suspected that no Jews lived in Daliya. After a brief stop we continued to Ussafiya, smaller and almost contiguous; Jonathan said that while Daliya was prospering, Ussafiya had a drug problem. From where do the drugs come? --"From Lebanon."
We continued along the crest of the Carmel. For long stretches, not much had changed except that the road was much better (it used to be little more than a pair of paved strips). The view would have been great except for the dust in the air brought by the khamseen which stopped one from seing even the nearby valley floor. Gradually we reached Haifa University, and from there on the area was densely settled all the way. The house at 2 Argaman has been torn down and was replaced by a tall 4-story buiding, the "Lev HaCarmel" hotel has become a retirement home, and its rear side with the dance balcony looked rather seedy. The "Piccadily" night club was replaced by a synagogue with nice stained-glass windows--only the old water tower remains in place, with the fire-brigade station in its expanded to hold two trucks. Funny, but the tower looked much smaller than I recalled of it: when I grew up, it dominated the neighborhood, because the houses and trees around it were all much lower. Now everything is built up to 4 or more floors, no empty lots are to be seen and only small bit of the Margo'a pine grove remains--and the tower, too, seems to have shrunk.
We also drove around Tel Maneh, where Jonathan grew up. The house where Rivka used to live still stands, part of the "home for the elderly." Jonathan told me "in the end, she did not want to live. She was not sick, but she no longer wanted to live." Maybe that was because her sight and hearing were gone. "Her mind was sharp to the end."
At the entrance to the central Carmel, a huge boxy cultural center has been built, but the old center buildings still remain, now quite weatherbeaten. We drove by the high-rise "Panorama Center" across from the subway entrance, then past the Dan Hotel--Jonathan thought he would pick up wines there, but it was the wrong address--and then down the steep Mountain Road--I think it's named for Ben Gurion now--to the Bahai gardens.
Unfortunately, the gardens close at noon, and after parking--not easy to find a place close--we missed the time and had to do with a general view. Much of the new construction of the "hanging gardens" is complete, stretching from the German Colony to the top of the mountain--but I am not sure how much of it is open to the public.
The car was parked on Hillel Street and I asked Jonathan to return through Masada Street, which he did. The stone house of Mrs. Weil still stands, overshadowed by more recent ones, but the short connecting streets-the one where the Leo Beck school used to be, and "Samuel Street" by Dani Wofenstein's home, now some city office--were closed to cars. We turned on Balfour Street and came back on Masada, and the street was much the way it was 50 years ago. Only the houses seem more worn, a few have been replaced, and most of them look run down. Certainly the one on 43 Massada Street does so, the place where our family lived in an apartment shared by 5 parties. "Only Arabs and Russians live here now". I went up its stairs, on one door were 4 names including "Faisal" and in what used to be a fishmonger's shop was downstairs was a beauty salon with a Russian sign. I took pictures and we drove on.
Haifa is now trying to turn the German Colony into a tourist attraction, but so far, it does not look too enticing. The old Egged station is now a lot for cars and workshops, and Jaffa Street is dying and dirty, "all the business has moved to the malls" ("canyons"). We stopped near the "New Trade Center" which looked anything but new, and had lunch in a small businessmen's cafeteria--salad bar, choice of meat, rice, not bad.
Then we drove back through the "checkpost" junction (the name remains),eneterd Yokne'am near the Soltam factory (closed after bankrupcy) and dropped Rachel in a big shopping. A wide new road north bypassed Tiv'on through the edge of the valley, and soon we were in Ramat Yishai, which has also expanded tremendously, westward and down to the lowlands. Lower Ramat Yishai was built on land once zoned agricultural, prime farmland actually, but was sold by the widow when the owner died.
Jonathan's neighborhood is pretty much built up, too. Nearby is a public park with a climbing wall, where those interested can practice rock climbing.
Friday morning, 14 April
We were given one of the kids' rooms by the back entrance. I slept badly, because some neighbors keep fowl and their roosters started crowing around 3 am. It was 4 before I realized I could just slide the window shut, and by then I was too wide awake, and the room too warm. It was going to be a draggy day.
Last night we visited briefly the house of Tal (currently in Turkey with his family) and then went over to Yo'av. Both were contracted by Jonathan, using experience he acquired building his own home and the same architect. Both are big and nicely finished--Tal's is just 5 months old, Yoav's a year older, big houses (250 sq. m) with tile roofs, interior staircases and a nice designs, each with a small backyard. Jonathan also contracted and sold some other houses in the neighborhood. Yoav works with Fedex and came in only around 9:30. His wife Ziva is an accountant and has a husky voice like a man's, which sounds a bit unusual. Audrey thought she sounded angry, but she was not, though she's definitely not as sunny a person as Suzy. Yo'av looked unshaven and a bit wild--his mind remains sharp (more than his brothers' maybe), but he has a devil-may-care attitude. He used to guide tourists and drive an ambulance "one level below paramedic" but was refused a regular job because of his bad kidney, so now he works for Fedex, and is happy with that.
Raising kids in Israel, one concludes, is just as perilous and uncertain as in the US, and I suspect that school quality has eroded too. There used to be a literate quality to society, which I now miss--newspapers are heavy on headlines and shout rather than talk, books are few and seem less important. Zevik had more trouble than I realized--not only was he kicked out of the army for refusing to take orders, but before that he spent a great deal of time in army jail. I asked Suzy if Ofer might enrol in the Technion when he comes back--he has a fund for higher education he can tap, 15,000 shekel. She just smiled and told me he would flunk out, he was never too good a student, and besides, entering the Technion is now hard, one must pass many test.
In Jonathan's office hangs a frame with her father's war decorations. He came from Vienna and was a photogrpher. When the Nazis invaded, he took pictures of their troops and was arrested. One of the jailers was a friend, and he told him--the Nazis will not let you go, tonight is your last chance, the last train is leaving for Italy. You should be on it, and from there go to Palestine." He helped Susi's father take that train, and from Italy he got to Palestine, ending up in Kibutz Usha, near Tiv'on.
Later the father joined the Jewish Brigade in the British army, serving with the Royal Engineers, and at the end of the war he returned to Vienna to see if any of his family had survived. None had--but his friend the jailer was still around, hungry because of food shortages, and the father repaid him by supplying him and his family with some of his army food.
Jonathan was leaving on Tuesday, flying with his wife to Fulda, Germany, to celebrate Passover there with a friend of Suzy (that was one reason we visited them before coming to Erez). It has been a long friendship, spanning decades, starting from a pen-pal exchange in school. Since then, the German girl grew up, converted to Judaism, married and had a family, and the two had visited each other. This year, Jonathan and Suzy fly to Fulda, bringing Haggadot and Matzah Shmurah ("guarded matzah," grown and produced under strict orthodox rules, with the traditional round shape) for the community seder in Fulda. From there they planned to go to Prague for 3 days, with an excursion to Lovosice, to see the house of Jonathan's grandfather (also mine).**************
It's 8 pm, and most of the day was spent with Miriam and Zvi, who have aged visibly. They showed us photos of Mali, Miriam's daughter (who now has Re'ut, a 7-month old girl) and she looks just like Miriam used to, with black hair; Miriam herself (3-4 years older than me) reminds me of her mother, except for a henna-tint hair. But the voice is still that of old-time Miriam, tellin stories, friendly, interested. Tzvi, on the other hand, seems much more shaky. He had a heart bypass operation and also had prostate cancer--his prostate was removed and his PSA is back to a low level, but he does not look well. He still drives their car, not too far--while Miriam has stopped driving altogether. Both still have many activities and clubs, e.g. Tzvi heads the club of Bezek retirees. He is a survivor of Auschwitz, members of a generation which now slowly fades away. We discussed them with Suzy last night at the kitchen table--"they all were strong, strong people. I in their place would not have survived." Neither would I.
They drove us down to the beach along Freud Road, through the old "airfield" of Achuzah, once surrounded by lovely pine trees, now sprouting high-rise buildings and densely settled. Further down the road went by a new convention center under twin blue clamshell roofs, and then passed beneath the main highway and rail line, to the municipal beach.
The beach is open and free, very nicely done. Along its entire length, over a mile, stretches a brick-paved promenade, with stands of coffee-shops, changing rooms, an amphitheatre etc. We drank freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice at one stand, squeezed by a big lever machine like those I recall in use 50 years ago. The beach had some visitors, not too many--except that one end was crowded with Arabs, for whom this was the day of rest, men and women, some of whom waded into the water. The beach also has its own rail station.
It was a slow, pleasant walk, ending at life-saving station #1, beside a big wooden fish from which slides for kids led down to the sand in various directions. Up north, where Khayat Beach used to be, Haifa's prime beach for swimming and lazing on the sand, now stand a few huge concrete-gray buildings, a hotel and some apartments. Miriam said another beach promenade was built in Bat Galim, but we did not have the time to visit there.
Instead, on the way back Tzvi drove us to Vardiya, now an area of luxury buildings, usually 4-family condos, in the style of the time--red roof, balconies and extensions. (In my time Vardiya was a tall hill beyond the settled area of the city-past the bus garage and past a big quarry, in which Kasha and I once went target-shooting. Some people starting building homes on its top but abandoned them, and campers often used them as places of relief. One house was the "museum" because of the many graffiti on its walls. The rest of the hill was covered with trees and shrubs, rather wild, and in the valley west of it was a well, used sometimes by Arabs.)
At the edge of the hilltop a "Patriot" battery was stationed in the Gulf War, and we went there for an overview of Haifa. Wadi Rushmiya is lined with high-rise apartments, up to 20 or more floors, and in its inner recess, where gravel used to be mined, a "Grand Canyon" is being built, the biggest shopping mall of them all. Buildings everywhere, little of the old vegetation left--in an area once so wild and natural! The old Rushmiya arch bridge, we were told, still stands as a memorial, but traffic crosses the Rushmiya gorge on the "22nd Battalion Bridge," a freeway-style straight bridge supported by high pylons.
Back in the house, around 2:30 pm, Miriam served a big dinner-lunch (she had hoped Suzy and Jonathan would be with us and cooked much more than we could consume). First a veggie soup, fragrant and hot, then several salads, beets, an "oriental" lentil-and-unmilled-rice dish (I forgot its name), chicken in rice and chicken in wine sauce and kreplach. Enough to feed an army. I took a small helping of each item and was quite full-and even more so after she brought out the dessert, fruit salad spiked with her home-made Cointreau, i.e. strong alcohol in which oranges had been steeped. We ate on the porch and talked, and by 4 pm, as arranged, Jonathan arrived.
I was dead tired and collapsed on the bed soon after arriving in Ramat Yishai-the fatigue coming less from the day than from the preceding night. Jonathan had Rivka's tape on the car's tape player, he had listened to it, and later Yoav (whom he picked up with Ziva) made some copies. Of the Bussgangs, only Tsilla, Alizah and Raphael survive, and only Tsilla is in good health.
Suzy later told us how Rivka died, close to her 90th birthday--she deliberately stopped eating. In her last years she was not in good shape-she could remember the names of her siblings in proper order, but not whether Paul was still alive. Gradually she needed more and more care, and by the end her savings were just about depleted. But she always recognized Suzy and Jonathan and was happy with their weekly or biweekly visits.*****************
After dinner I went with Jonathan and Suzy, to rummage for mementos. Among dusty books up in the attic we found "Diamonds in the Sky," a present for my Bar Mitzvah, and I kept it; a 1896 German chemistry text which I used to help me in school was left behind. And a big bag of photos from Rivka's legacy, annotated by Rachel. I promised to Jonathan to send him a bunch of plastic sleeves for them--from the time I overstocked on odd sizes for my own family photos--so he can put them in an album. And also make copies of photos from the visit of Paul and Miriam to Greenbelt in September 1981 (he sent me the date). Also send him the new Readers Digest book.*****************
Shabbat, and Itamar is here--also Rachel and her family, also Yoav and Ziva. As for the rest: Tilly's daughter Hagar, 11th grade, is now in Poland on a class trip to visit to the camps-and the also has Tuval (15) and Tzlil (boy, 13, to be Bar-Mitzvah next month). Yael (ex-Lior) is in Bnei Brak, a "repentant" who has cut all ties to her family; she "repented" after leaving her husband, Efraim, and living with a divorced man who had 2 grown kids. Deganit in Sderot has 3 kids, Chen and Yonit four. Chen oversees the large scale agriculture projects (dry and irrigated, both) operated jointly by Erez and Or Haner, two neighboring kibutzim. Ori studies computers at the Negev Academy near the united school in Sha'ar Hanegev, Yahel studies physics in Jerusalem (he was the one who fell behind in school, now was catching up), Niv is in the paratroopers. Pnina has her computer, I was told she liked to use the internet.
Itamar is rounder in face and body, resembling more and more his father. His pleasant voice and easy-going mood remain the same as ever.
Erez, Wednesday 19 April
Barak just told me that "cool" in Hebrew is "magniv"--enough to make you steal. The last few days were so packed that I never got to take notes--each evening we stay up to midnight and beyond, tuckered out but still talking, because that is the coolest and nicest part of the day.
Itamar has an apartment near the top of the kibbutz-the southern end. Behind the house rises the hill which shields the Gaza strip from view, wooded with eucalyptus trees, and off a dirt road on its slope, he parks the car he had just bought from his brother Gabi. It is a wine-red Daihatsu, about 6 years old, a nice car (though its radio needs fixing) bought jointly with Ori and Pnina. He drives expertly--as might be expected from someone whose experience in the army included pulling flatbed trailers loaded with 70-ton tanks.
Out of sections of eucalyptus branches Itamar has made a set of crude steps going down to his house. The slope and much else is covered with yellow chartziyot, miniature sunflowers, and some red poppies are still seen, but the season when red anemones gave the main colors is a month or two past.
His apartment is the second in the house, a nice living room ("salon"), with a dining area and kitchen corner. Further in are three small bedrooms, a bathroom and a toilet-also an outside a closet for a small washing machine and a large open porch. One bedroom is his, one belongs to Maya and one to Barak-the one with the computer in it, of course. He even has a small dishwasher, though its main use is as a drying rack, the dishes being few enough to wash by hand. Radio, TV, many books-kibbutzim have come a long way.
Let me see: on the first day in Erez, a million years ago, Itamar took us to see his hothouses, where tomato seeds are bred. To hyridize tomatoes properly, in half the hothouse (which is huge) the stamens (or whatever the male part of the flower is called) are torn off before the flower matures, and the flower is marked with colored disks. In the remainder of the hothouse tomatoes bloom normally. Then pollen from the other variety is dusted on to the marked flowers--all done by Thai workers, working very patiently. Itamar used to work there, but has now given his job to a younger person, since the operation is not large enough to support two kibbutz members, and he himself is a maintenance mechanic in the plastics plant.
From there we went to the "ecological bubble," a teaching center visited by classes from various schools, run by Amnon Zarka, a patient, pleasant man, whom I got to appreciate more and more as I listened to him. He is a natural teacher! Before coming to this job, a few years back, he headed an agricultural research center in Erez, and his technical knowledge is impressive. We were lucky--our visit happened when he was not occuped with schoolchildren.
In one corner of the "bubble" stood an exhibit, put together by some school kids, about growing plants in a seventh "shemitta" year. Our sages have decreed that they may not touch the soil, but hydroponics are apparently allowed. We are not sure when these years occur: years of the Jewish calendar exactly divisible by 7 give one sequence, but we also know that the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in a shemitta year, and that gives a different sequence of years. In the exhibit, a plastic pipe was placed in a bowl which separated it from the soil, and in it pipes stuck out to the sides, each bearing a plant. The whole was filled-with soil or peatmoss?-and watered from the top.
Another experiment studied the ecology of ornamental carp in a small pond. Without extra oxygen, the fish gasp for air (?), Amnon said, so he rigged up an aerator-a wheel with buckets made from the bottoms of plastic pop bottles. The wheel turns around, scoops up water and then half a turn later, allows it to splash back. With the wheel in use, fish get enough oxygen, but now their excretions load the water with too much ammonia. The solution is a cleaning pond with algae-and the algae are a high protein variety, which can be skimmed off and turned into livestock feed. Later Itamar showed us some large scale tanks in which the kibbutz grew such algae-I think, using waste water (which has its own distribution net, with pipes distinguished by red color). Fish inside maintain the balance, and grow much more rapidly than fish in open ponds.
When algae are provided, the fish do well. As a smaller experiment, Amnon has also sealed off a bottle containing a small gambusia fish, some algae and oxygen: a closed ecological system which has been operating now for 2 years. A light keeps the algae productive, recycling excrement and carbon dioxide, and providing food to the fish. The equilibrium seems stable-helped by the fact that the fish can fast up to one month, while the algae can regenerate even after being almost completely consumed.
On the elevated balcony of the "bubble" Amnon has another experiment--social behavior of black and white mice, placed together. It turns out that if either group numbers less than 15% it gets picked upon by the majority, but with a more balanced ratio, they live in peace.
He also showed us some nice experiments with soap bubbles on wire frames... and more. Amnon had invited Itamar to join him as teacher, but so far Itamar has declined. He loves kids, though. Yahel told me near the end of our visit, "he cannot pass a child without asking about it, or hugging it." He certainly loves to hug his 4 grandchildren-Shir, Einav, Gefen and the one girl, Raz.
From there we went to the algae tanks, and then to the plastics factory. Erez takes (or makes?) plastic fabrics, then coats them with thick plastic, producing huge rolls, used to line reservoirs and also (the floating variety) to cover their tops-in Israel, on the Golan heights and as far as Australia. Business is good (Kibbutz Ha-Ogen also produces sheets, but demand is big enough to keep both plants busy). However... the kibbutz has big debts back from the time when life seemed easy and money was borrowed for construction, e.g. for the "culture hall" just above the dining room. Because of he the debt payments, they just about keep even, and not easily at that.
The plastic plant was running at full capacity, two large machines continuously producing thick plastic sheets. The one we were watching was coating a big roll with thick orange plastic. First glue was dripped on the sheet, and meanwhile slugs of the plastic were cooked in another part, from raw materials whose bags were piled outside. At another station the plastic from the cooker was melted and the sheet coated with it, except for the outermost inch or so, and at the next station, those edges were sliced off by sharp knives. Nothing was wasted, though-the ribbons left over were used to tie the finished rolls.
The process was continuous. No matter what happened down the line--say, the machine was briefly stopped for adjustments or for removing a finished roll--the roll which was being coated continued to unwind, and the slack was taken by an "accumulator," a frame with two sets of rollers, high ones and low ones. The sheet zig-zagged between them, and gears could increase the distance between them to take up slack, or cut it down to reduce it. It was quite fascinating to watch all this on a short visit-though doing that work day after day probably quickly makes it into a routine.
Monday the 17th
We drove north, on a two-day visit of the Galilee and Golan. We followed highway 4 from Ashkalon, by-passed Tel Aviv, and turned off at Wadi Ara. A sign at the turn-off says "Beit Terezin"-that is the road we will take (for a mile or two) when we visit there on Friday.
We pass Gan Hashomron, areas vaguely familiar from the boot camp in 1948, then go into Wadi Ara itself. Um El Fahm has become a sprawling town, stretching on and on: Itamar says the inhabitants are not too friendly to Israel. We leave the hills on the straightedge road, "kvish ha-sargel" to Afula, quite straight except for dips and rises. Itamar turns off towards Jezreel, a road I had never taken, slowly rising on a gentle slope until the Gilbo'a mountains rise in front of us, when it zig-zags down to the bottom of the valley. Kfar Yechezkel, Beit Hashittah and the Shatta Prison-decades ago, that was where Arab prisoners staged a big breakout, now it is still a prison. The air warms up-the hour is close to noon, and we are well below sea level as we roll into Beit She'an, a dusty and rather poor town.
Itamar knows where he wants to go-to the excavations, now in the process of careful restoration. We park near the entrance, and I notice a row of "Johnny-on the spot" portable toilets, only here they are labeled in Hebrew "Motza'ot." What an apt name! This is the land of the bible indeed. Back in Erez I dig out the quotation-2nd Kings, ch. 10, v. 27: "And they broke down the pillar of Baal, and broke down the house of Baal, and made it into an out-place, to this very day." A footnote in the scripture-part of the oral tradition handed down, explains that "out-place"-motza'ot-- was a euphemism, and the proper word was "mochra'ot", meaning shitting place. Back to Greenbelt I looked up the English translation: the word there is "draught house," which only the big dictionary at Goddard recognizes (the one with a wooden stand of its own) as a archaic term for "privy."
Beit She'an used to be a Greek town. Its mosaics reflect Greek gods and culture, and it thrived under the Romans. Its showplace was and remains the amphitheatre, once overgrown with weeds, no cleaned up and meticulously restored, I vaguely recall it was actually used in some performances. After that we visited a big bathhouse, with its underground hot-water passages exposed (Metzadah has a small version), and went down a street of columns to look at some other structures-but the oppressive heat (and the clock) drove us back to the car. The tall mound of Beit Shean, in the background, is still largely unexplored. The area we visited apparently housed public institutions, on low ground which would have been hard to defend but which was plentifully supplied with running water, from the stream flowing down the valley.
We continue into the Jordan valley, and Itamar points out the embankment of the Turkish narrow-gauge railroad between Jaffa and Damascus (linked to the ones to Medinah and to Jerusalem), built nearly a century ago. The land is well cultivated and we pass villages, including the new Kibutz Gesher: we could go down to the site of the old bridge over the Jordan and to the police station which guarded it and was the scene of bitter fighting in 1948-but there is no time if we want to see the "Island of Peace."
The "island" is an interesting place, between the beds of the Yarmuk and the Jordan, no longer an island now that the holding pond for the hydroelectric station built by Ruttenberg in 1932 is dry. Ruttenberg, a Russian engineer with vision and a long history in Russian politics (supposedly he killed Father Gapon, a government agent who incited the disastrous strikes of 1905), built his station on land some of which belonged to Jordan, and he leased that tract for 100 years. For a while, the station supplied all the electricity of the country (except for Jerusalem, probably). Then in 1948 the Jordanian army overran the station and the nearby village of Naharayim and took the workers prisoner.
Then peace was signed between the countries, not that long ago--and just before we left Israel, the airport PA announced a flight to Amman, how strange! The question of the power station tract came up, and a deal was struck by which the land was recognized to be Jordan's, but the lease remained valid until 2032, or whenever. So Israeli farmers started cultivating the land, under the eye of Jordanian soldiers, and school kids visiting the site could go into Jordanian territory.
Then some Arab soldier lost his balance and shot a group of visting school girls, killing seven of them and precipitating a crisis. The Jordanian government disassociated itself from the crime and tried to make amends, and in the end this land was declared an island of peace, a memorial park to the girls. I guess it is all symbolic.
Still, in the end, we could not make a visit. Tours were conducted until 4 pm, and while we arrived before that, we relied on Israel time, and Israel had just switched to summer daylight saving time, whereas Jordan had not. For the Jordanians we were too late, and they refused entry. So, although we had a very nice guide, an older kibutznik from Ashdot Ya'akov (who rides his bike to the site and back home), all he could do is go with us around the outside of the "island." From a hilltop with some old trenches he told the story of Naharayim, showed us the diversion channel and the remains of the old Turkish railroad bridge. But all we could do after that was to drive along the barbed wire fence, which is the border, up to where the power station could be viewed more clearly.
At the entrance is a small memorial park to the girls, with their names outlined in shrubbery. All very nice (or kitschy, take your choice), but what Audrey will probably remember the longest were some multicolored birds, flying fast like swallows and nesting in holes in the embankment. Itamar knew their name, and he told us they ate bees and were found only in that area and nearby at El-Khama. They built new nest-holes each year, he said, never reusing the old ones.
Itamar in general is a great expert on birds and plants. He identified for us the gray raven, and its cousin, the "orvanee", also the "siksik" with white belly. and there was hardly a plant he could not tell about. On the path to his apartment, one day, he bent down and plucked two plants, straight stalks with gray-blue flowers lined up along them. Then he searched for others-he might have found one more, not sure. "This is the leech plant" (alekket), he said. It has no roots of their own but prefers to attach itself to roots of other plants (chartziyah flowers, in this case). "A couple of those can destroy a whole field of sunflowers, very quickly" he said.
From there to Tzemach, then up the road to Poriya and to the house of Mira Sadan, of the same age as Tilly, the two grew up together in Poriya. Lovely house, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a big living room with beams on the ceiling and a balcony with a wide-angle view, which changes after dark to a multitude of lights. That was where we were to spend the night, in the kids' rooms downstairs.
Mira is a lively person, divorced, her daughter who lives outside Katzrin on the Golan heights just had a baby girl, first grandchild, and Mira is very proud. Her youngest child Dror still lives with her (I think she also has another daughter). That night he was to be picked up at 1:30 by his dad, after which both of them would fly to Salonika, to see Maccabi Tel Aviv play Barcelona in basketball semi-finals for Europe's cup. The success of that team caused quite a stir in Israel. The following night, Maccabi beat Barcelona 65 to 51, but on Thursday night it lost the championship game to Panataikos of Athens. These professional teams are strange combinations: Maccabi had black players and a fellow named Burke-probably American all-while Panataikos had Katash, an ex-Maccabi player from Israel, who gave a strong performance against his former teammates.
Mira is informal and delightful. Wonderful house, wonderful view of the Kinneret--the Sea of Galilee--day and night. Before dark Itamar took us on a quick tour of Poriya, to see the shell of the beginning of Tilly's house (she and Yair plan a center for athletic nutrition?), and the house where Itamar and she grew up. Arabs and Christians now also live in Poriya, Mira's daughter was friends with one. And we stopped at the old basalt house, the first in Poriya, now a historic ruin. Some 50 years ago I remember watching the weekly movie being shown there. The man who ran the projector also sold refreshments in the break, which seemed to last forever, because he would not restart the projector until he felt he had sold enough.
Itamar also took us a bit down the mountain, to the Forest of Swiss Jews and its scenic overlook of the lake, with two strange basalt sculptures, somewhere between human, beast and stone. For dinner we drove to Tzemach, and then by the Golan highway, to Khamat Gader (El Khamma), the place where Israel, Jordan and Syria meet. The place has--surprise!--a Thai restaurant (and a regular one). We had reservations and sat on the balcony, overlooking the pool, where kids splashed in hot sulfurous water, and later a stag group from Yavne'el sang loudly in a tent on the other side. Good food--meat soup (in a crock pot over crockery heater, with a flame in its middle) meat with basil, many dishes, 306 NIS for all.
Then back to Mira, to her home-made strawberry sherbet (great). We sat on balcony and argued about culture, belief in God, "who is a Jew," and what makes one Jewish, with a carpet of lights spread out below. Should the Golan be given back? All over the country we saw protest banners (of the same pattern-obviously, produced by the same hand), "The nation is with the Golan." Mira, like most Israelis, is split on the issue. On one hand, her daughter lives there, and would h/ave to move from her nice home... On the other hand, peace is important, the nation had enough of wars. P>
Next morning the air was again filled with dust, another khamseen. Where in the evening before we could see the mountains of the Golan (though not the Hermon), now we could barely see to the lake shore. We got up late, around 9--Itamar was already up. He was up late--we went to bed (narrow beds downstairs, in a kid's room) around 12:20, while he and Mira stayed up to solve the weekly cryptic crossword in Yedi'ot. A queen and bird of prey make a movement together? Nordiyah, a youth movement (once), combining Queen Noor of Jordan and Dayah, buzzard. Then at 1 Dror got woken--tall boy, 11 grade, could be basketball player himself.
Itamar drove up towards El Khamma, then up the steep switchbacks, We passed some more colorful bee-eating birds like those at Naharayim, and then suddenly the rocks ended and we were on top, a flat plateau, green and cultivated, fields of barley and other crops. From a 1984 trip on this road with Jonathan, I mostly recall a lot of empty land, barbed wire, signs "caution mines" and black rocky outcrops. Now the area is tilled up to the horizon, neat villages, good roads, one can see why Israelis are reluctant to give it up. Everywhere, here and all over "old Israel", banners meet the eye "The nation is with the Golan" and "We won't move from the Golan." This is beautiful fertile land, it was rather barren when Israelis first arrived here in 1967, and they now feel at home in it. The settlers stress Jewish roots in this land: In the Katzrin museum we were shown traces of synagogues, and halfway down towards the Sea of Galilee stood Gamla, the stronghold destroyed by Vespasian. "Never again Gamla" said another banner.
We also pass some army outposts-- self-propelled cannon, M-60 tanks, Merkavas, big hulking things --but the army presence is not very noticeable.
We reach Katzrin, the central town of the Golan, a small urban center with red-roofed houses and neat streets. It has a small industrial center south of it, including a plant for bottled drinking water-"Eden Water" sold all over the country. Drinking water has been a problem, in Erez and elsewhere it tasted flat, it probably contains more salt than is healthy. "Eden Water" presumably is low in sodium (the Golan has more rainfall, and we pass some big reservoir, behind an earth dam which may be lined with Erez plastics). Jonathan and Yo'av may appreciate it, since they now only have one working kidney each (Jonathan donated his to his son).
Further north, still short of town, we stop at a park with an "exhibit on life in Talmudical times" which we skipped (life was probably not radically different from that in Arab villages two generations ago). We did however watch a film about the Golan, very nicely done, with scenic shots from planes and helicopters, as well as the obvious political message.
Katzrin itself has a city center, with a museum which we visited. One of the women running it, a redhead born in Heftzi Bah (she said the daughter of Salos was still there) bet Itamar the entrance fee that she was older than him. She lost-she was born in '47, Itamar in '43--but I think she charged us the fee anyway. The museum had many interesting exhibits and also a movie about Gamla, which was only identified by Shemarya Guttman in 1967. He appeared in the film, white haired, narrating the battle, which ended in a wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants by the Roman soldiers.
We had promised Oren and Allon to eat "for them" falafel in Israel, but Passover was approaching and most shops were closed, cleaning out the leaven (falafel is not kosher for Passover-not to mention the pita in which it comes). So finding falafel was not easy. We had some in Beit She'an, but it tasted flat, with very little cumin or perhaps none at all.
Furthermore, all that touring disrupted the daily schedule. In Katzrin we only broke for lunch around 3 pm and, remembering our promise, we walked to the town's shopping center and looked for falafel. It was a small place, catering mostly to tourists, but we found some and it tasted a bit better-still, not the way it used to. To the left of the falafel stand was one selling stir-fried meat, "bassar mukpatz" (literally, meat made to jump)--did the Thai workers import that? To the right was another small food shop (it too had falafel) and as we sat at one of the picnic tables in the middle between the shops, eating our lunch, we watched birds raid the counter and snatch french fries from a plate.
Itamar meant to drive east to one of the hills that rose in the distance, which would have given a good view of the Golan (the dust had abated somewhat), but the hour was getting late and he still planned to visit Metulla, at the northern end of Israel. So after driving east for a while, past the little place where Mira's daughter lived and past more green wheat and barley, we turned around and returned to the Jordan valley, descending on steep switchbacks to the "Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob." Beyond it was the old site of Mishmar HaYarden, the village whose inhabitants were all taken prisoner by the Syrian army in 1948.
We continued past the mound of ancient Chatzor, Ayelet HaShachar and Jachulla, to Kiriat Shmoneh, which has grown big, it even has "villas" at its southern entrance and quite a few factories east of the main road. Then up the hill to Metulla, branching off to see the road to Lebanon at the "good fence," where traffic crosed to and from Lebanon. We saw few people there, but the road to Lebanon was wide open, though of course we were sure to be soon stopped if we tried to drive that way.
Back to "Canada house" at the near edge of Metulla, a large community center built by donations from Canada Jews. As befits a gift by Canadians, it had an ice rink-in fact, two rinks, but only one in operation. A Zamboni machine was slowly smoothing the ice, and a few skaters were actually using sliding around. We went to the coffee house at the end, where Itamar treated us to ice cream--the right food at the right place!--while he himself had ice coffee.
Both were served by a young waitress who told us she lived in Lebanon. It all seemed so peaceful-but if Israel pulls out this summer, as prime minister Barak would like, things may change rather quickly. Just after we got back to the US (April 29) the news came-a small item, no elaboration--that 4 soldiers of the South Lebanon Army were killed by Hezbollah fighters, suggesting the calm appearance was a bit deceptive.
The trip home took 4 hours. We stopped for "Alon" gas, whose emblem is a green oak tree. I tried to get Allon a souvenir with his Hebrew name, but the best the servers could come up with was a name-tag pin with "Alon" on it (and the emblem). I wish we could get the company's overalls, but none were available. We stopped in Ramat Yishai and looked up Yo'av's home (Marganiot Street 23) to retrieve Rivka's tape, but no one was there.
Back to Wednesday the 19th, Passover night
Itamar has shown us his father's "family haggadah", a German version. The inside of the cover lists the Passover seders of the family-and recently Itamar started adding to the list, on a sheet of paper tucked inside the book. The book's title:
"Seder HaHagadah le-Leyl Shimurim -- Erzhlung von den Auszuge Israels aus gypten" Lehrberger and Co, Frankfurt a.M., 1930. And the list inside:
1929--with Levins at (?)
1930 -- in Heidelberg alone
1931--in Heidelberg with mother.
1933 in ? (German name)
1934--Bodenbach (no Seder)
1935--on ship (Aliyah)
1936--In Migdal, haus von Chanoch Pchter
1937--in Migdal: Aba, Ima, (Dorothea) , Pitti, Ulllman (?), Kaetchen Loewenstein
1938--Beit Ben Yisrael, Abba, Imma, ... Bashanah haba'ah elohim ? kessef, avodah tovah veharbe yeladim. (then not legible) 1
943--Abba, Pninah, Anny, Georg, Pitti, David 1
944--Sabba Jechiel, Sabta Ethel, Pnina, Pitti, Pishi, Aba (then not too legible)
1948--Ba'emdah (?) Piti, Pishi, Pnina, Abba (all in Hebrew from now)
Then German again to 1962, not all legible, the writing smeared-it might have got wet. "Piti" was his nickname for Gabi, and "Pishi" the one for Itamar.
In the afternoon I visited Pnina and briefly met with Yahel, who has come from Jerusalem. A soft-spoken fellow, at 26 he is starting to study physics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, not an easy job. His hair is light brown and short, quite unlike his three other full-brothers-maybe those are Bracha's genes. He will not be able to attend the kibbutz seder, instead he has guard duty at the gate. Itamar has lent his car (for Chen's family to go to Yonit's parents?) and in its place he has borrowed someone's Mazda, which gave no problems. When we returned, the owner of the Mazda was standing guard at the gate.
(Ya'ir Karni, at whose house we had the seder, also had guard duty that night, at 1 am. You would think no guards were needed in Beit Yitzchak, but in fact some car thefts have occurred in the village. Some of the thieves were caught, most of them Arabs-though for a while, a few Russian immigrants also were involved.)
That seder night at the home of Itamar's sister Tilly (Chamutal Karni) was certainly different from all other nights, even from any seder night I can recall. First of all, we got our taste of traffice jams in Israel. On a clear road, the trip to her house takes Itamar 1.25 hours, but that night it took nearly 3 (we started around 4 pm-too late!). Bumper to bumper, stop and go, with police at intersections controlling lights; we moved faster on limited access portions, but not by much. So many cars in this small country! Half the population was on the road, it seemed, on its way to celebrate with the other half.
Tilly is living in a rather cramped rented house in Beit Yitzchak. Her husband Ya'ir is no longer an employee of the Wingate Institute but an independent contractor. He still works for the institute, but also has other occupations-advising athletic trainers and trying to market a special drink for athletes. He and Tilly have started building a house in Poriya (and she did not buy her father's home there-just a plot of land). To ensure that the building permit remains valid, they built a small concrete shell on it, although the final house, to be started this fall (God willing) will be much larger. They hope to establish there a center for athlete nutrition and for other activities connected to athletics, and might work with schools in the Jordan valley. Yair looks good-still a small, wiry man, his short hair is turning gray (it seemed), but he spoke very little.
Tilly set the seder table in the big room of the house, and even placed diagonally, it barely fit. With Tilly and Ya'ir were Ya'ir's parents, Shmuel (white haired old timer, member of Ha'Ogen) and Mina (deaf and quiet). Others at the table included Tilly's daughter Hagar (17) who had just come back from Poland, a neighbor Yossi (bald), a friend Malka (big, older, red-dyed hair) the boys Tuval and Zlil (who is 13 in 4 days, reads his Bar Mitzvah in a month, BaHar) and us. Itamar in white shirt of course--and he told me no, no tie, never, so I left mine behind--Pnina, Audrey and I. Malka left early for an impulse trip to Prague, taking off at 1 am that night),
The ceremonial part was quite perfunctory and abbreviated--everyone seemed in a hurry to get to the meal. Zlil sang the 4 question, but otherwise there was very little melody, and we could not see the ceremonial plate (Tilly had something there) nor any ceremonial matzah tray. The afikoman was hidden by Ya'ir and was searched for by the kids, with a reward of sorts. It was a little piece of matzah wrapped in a yellow paper napkin, which Hagar finally located in her dad's shirt pocket.
The meal was huge--no soup with matzah dumplings, but gefillte fish and hard boiled eggs were served first. Then came a fish kugel made by Ya'ir, veal, chicken, rice, potatoes and of course matzah; the charoset looked more like apple butter, and I suspect it was bought in a store. The later ceremonial part--eating the afikoman, grace after the meal, singing the Hallel, the 3rd and 4th glass were all omitted, but being guests, we did not say anything. No one seemed in charge, really, and Itamar on the way back blamed Shmuel for adopting the style of "those from the Hashomer Hatza'ir (the stream to which Ha-Ogen belongs) who are rather non-religious, if not outright anti-religion.
The best part was the conversation after the seder. Malka had left to prepare for her trip, and Yossi had left too, and the rest of us sat and chatted. Zlil has big eyes and demands attention--he loves imaginative things like "Star Wars" and Pokemon (he has a sphere with 3 small pokemons in it). Black long straight hair, like the big eyed waif in those mass produced paintings made in Mexico and sold in parking lots. I gave him and the other kids souvenirs of America-the new gold-colored dollar coin, with Sakagawea and little Pomp, a coin which most Americans have yet to see.
Tuval, older, has jet-black hair combed porcupine style and quickly retired to watch a soccer game for the Europe cup--Manchester United against some rival. Hagar, like her dad, is petite but well built--she showed us some medals she earned in Judo--and had just arrived from Poland, after a long, long trip. The plane was to take off around 6 pm but actually only did so around 4 am--no one was sure why, some strike in Israel had to do with it--and although before the seder she managed to sleep 7 hours, she still had not caught up.
In well-ironed white shirt, with a little curl right in the middle of her forehead (well, more on one side), she looked cute. At 17 she has a year and a half before army service and wants to study architecture. Meanwhile she told us about her teachers, many of them Russians--some she loves, some are mean to her (some, to anyone in class), and this determines her attitude to various study subjects--last year she hated bible, this year she loves it but hates math.
On the trip back, around midnight, the roads were only slightly less crowded. Sadat chose the wrong time for a surprise attack on Israel-on Yom Kippur, when everyone was at home, reachable, and the roads were free of traffic. The vulnerable time may be on Pessach, when they are all jammed.
A long day, spent with David and Channa Gil, wonderful people who have changed little. Itamar, too, was fascinated by David and his stories.
David, now 71 years old and retired, is still working on theoretical chemistry, using his computer and appropriate codes to predict properties (e.g. color and binding energy) of compounds not yet created. His has tried to hide the greyness of his hair by a dab of coloring, but it looks like a half-hearted effort-he has not need of it, anyway. Channa is retired too, looks as beforer changed (better hair coloring?), still full of energy: she made us a wonderful meal, maybe not exactly Pessach, but very enjoyable. Also present was a lady friend named Varda, wery light (or white?) short hair, combed down, active in the music world. Channa and David had tickets to see "Don Giovanni" that night, but David preferred to stay home to watch Maccabi play Athens for Europe's basketball championship, so it was agreed that Varda would get his seat.
David is an expert story teller, and he told the full story of his Dad (of which I only knew except a tiny bit). Now I only recall bits and pieces, but I have urged David (there, and again from Greenbelt by e-mail) to write down that story. His dad was in the Russian army and was captured by the Austrians, who held their prisoners under pretty dismal conditions. One day an officer came into their barracks and asked "is anyone here a chemist?" David's dad, with no more than high school chemistry, raised his hand-anything to get out of that awful place. He was then transferred to help in a sugar-beet factory--extracting sugar, not alcohol as I once thought. The owner led him through the factory and its lab and explained the procedures, and David's dad nodded, said "yes" to everything and tried to remember, and somehow he bamboozled the man to believe he was a real chemist.
The man was quite strict, but David's dad quickly learned the trade, to the point where the factory actually set new standards for product quality. Later he escaped, was caught, managed to talk the man out of it-I forgot the details, but in the end he got to Russia, only to find that the revolution had broken out, and joined the Czech Legion to get out of there. There was more, a story with a Czech baker who vouched for him after he got to Czechoslovakia, but I can't recall the details. After the war he met the owner of the factory and told him the truth about his chemistry expertise, and the man refused to believe him.
In the best of times, David is somewhat downbeat, and these days he has good reasons. He has lost one younger brother, the one who lived in France, and now his other younger brother had cancer and the outlook was hopeless. In May or later he plans to go to France for 3 months-they have an apartment there.
While Itamar and I were listening to David, Audrey and Channa went to the bedroom, discussing first bridge and then stocks and investments, using the computer there. Audrey later told me-surprise!-that both are actually US citizens and can collect social security. David was probably naturalized when he worked in the US for the Ford company.
A tiring day--and Audrey is feeling somewhat stale here in the kibbutz, says we should be going around and seeing more. Thirty-five years ago we drove from hotel to hotel, met the people we sought and did what we wanted whenever we wanted. Thirty-five years ago we also had more energy, and I am happy now to have Itamar do the driving and guiding.
Still, we don't sleep too well, and the weather has been consistently hazy, dust in the air cuts down visibility to a mile or so--only this afternoon, coming back home, did the sky turn to a sort of blue. Today was to be the Ben Aris family's visit Beit Terezin in Giv'at Chayim. We met at 11:00 in a gas station (with restaurant and shops) near Kibbutz Ma'abarot, off the new road which parallels the old one. Itamar brought Pnina, Tilly came alone, and Gabi and Rachel brought two of their three grandsons-strapping Dror, after the army, and Yanir, the youngest one, children of Deganit; Elran is in the service.
I myself liked very much what I saw in Beit Terezin. A fiftyish lady named Anita Tarsi is in charge, is quite enthusiastic. The memorial room is well done, with a mosaic floor showing a map of Terezin, and I wish I could have have spent more time going through it: but after a while I realized I was left all alone. The main building has an exhibit hall, where visiting school classes also hold discussions, offices, library, and stocks of books to be sold-including "In Memory's Kitchen" bought at a remainders sale.
The exhibition in the hall (to open officially soon) was quite interesting. It displayed the pages of a picture book given to Yankev Edelstein by the ghetto activists after the first year of Terezin, with apt comments. The drawings were well done, with an upbeat tone well beyond what was warranted, expressing pride at the way the work of the inmates (done for the Germans) was carried out, because the leaders felt it helped the ghetto survive. Then again, the book was probably careful not to offend the Germans.
What disappointed me was the lack of interest by the rest of the family, who went rather quickly through the exhibit and then fell to chatting, especially Tilly. Gabi made a great show of tracking down his grandmother's record in the Terezin computer (which I already have), Itamar and Pnina seemed somewhat aloof, and did not afterwards talk about the experience. Audrey herself felt the museum should have done more to acknowledge my appreciable financial help. Maybe so, but in the face of survivors like Aliza Schiller, I say to myself--who am I, what claim do I have for attention, compared to these people?
Aliza-slim, totally white straight hair (very pretty) and smiling--showed me a copy of the poem my grandmother wrote for Jenny Manuel (still alive), which the museum may display (?) and I promised her a translation (and the article I wrote), on paper and on disk. She also promised to talk to Liesel--in fact, she dialed her number then and there (her idea) but no one was home. Anita ("second generation of Terezin survivors through my husband") gave me a video copy of the film we saw (in a format suitable for US TVs) and two books in Hebrew (incl. the autobiography of Ruth Bondi). I promised to send her a xerox of the cover of the Nosek journal (to see if they have it--if not, I can send the journal itself). We promised to stay in touch. Then Aliza went to deliver the metamucil I brought for Jenny Nachmani from her daughter Rachel Glick in Greenbelt, and Anita excused herself, she had to see off her son who was flying to the US. Before leaving, she still took some group pictures of us together.
On the way back I suggested lunch together, and Gabi said he knew a good place, "trust me." He then led us on a wild goose chase, until we gave up and Itamar went over to tell him so. On the way home Itamar took a detour to show us Modi'in, a new town near Latrun, a giant bedroom community on the edge of the Arab area. Just as he had promised, it had beautiful original architecture in many styles, stone-faced gleaming-white buildings. But located many miles from any employment, it is also a cut-off place, artificially placed for political reasons--and according to Gabi tonight, subsidized so that its dwellings cost half as much as similar units in a central area. In the best of times, people must commute the better part of an hour to their jobs in the Tel Aviv area--and to major purchases, entertainment etc. If a fuel shortage developed, the place would quickly become isolated. Israel has so many problems already--why add more?
From Modi'in we took highway 3, a fast 2-lane highway to Latrun, near where the "Canada Park" was filled with picnickers. Religious Jews find the Friday after Pessach, a half-holiday forming a "bridge" between Pessach and the Sabbath, a perfect time to go and picnic--one may drive, even light a fire! Indeed, the week of Passover is vacation time for many. We continued through the valley of Ayalon in front of Latrun--filled with ripening barle--past the police station over which a battle was fought, now a museum of the armored corps. We continued past the Nachshon crossroads near Beit Shemesh, to a place still called the esmiyah crossroads, though no sign of the vllage left. Then on to Kiriat Mal'achi, now occupying the site of Kastina, which I remember as a mud-brick village, like Mesmiya but smaller.
Itamar thought that my father's "Cafe Boomerang" was at the Kastina crossroads, where a coffee-house shack had "always" stood, but I said, no, it was on the side road to Be'er Tuviah, just before the army camp, which still existed (in fact, Itamar had served there). He found the road, and I think I found the building. In 1965 it was still operating: now it is a half-ruin used for storage, with walls leaning and cracked, I don't think it will stand much longer. I took pictures of it, on the background of a large pink apartment buildng which has sprouted behind it.
Saturday-Jerusalem, old city
Today we returned to highway 3, going north-east to the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv freeway (#1). At Latrun we turned right to Bab el Wad, the familiar gully already used as a highway in the days of the British Mandate, and as a carriage road before that. A few years ago a forest fire decimated the "government forest" in that valley, some trees remain, but not many. The burned-out armored cars have been collected in groups, painted and are obviously on display;they used to stand by the roadside, where they were halted, but presumably all those spots are now paved. There also seem to be more of them, as if some were brought here from elsewhere. The 1948 graffiti on the old pumping station offended some purists and were erased, including the one "Baruch Jamili" about which a song was once written (after which the original painter was found, middle aged).
The highway skirted Abu Ghosh (as it did already in 1984) and continued to Mt. Kastel, from which a wide view opened up--houses, houses everywhere. On the north side of the mountain stands "Mevaseret Yerushalayim" (Herald of Jerusalem), a big bedroom suburb, others extend along the north side of the wide valley, up to the ridge near the mosque of Nebi Samuel, which no longer stands out as it once did. Houses also peek over the top of the Giv'at Sha'ul mountain, where the edge of the Jerusalem cemetery can also be seen.
This is the entrance I remember, though now the road is much wider, plants spell out a sign "Welcome to Jerusalem" and high rise building overshadow the old "house of Issa Musa." Rather than pass Machaneh Yehudah, the main road now dives down into the valley of the Matzlevah, the ancient Monastery of the Cross. Before reaching the monastery, however, the road climbs up to Gaza Road, crosses Rechavia, and passes the Terra Sancta; the house across from it, which used to belong to a mission and gave away bibles, is now a store. We continue down to Agron Street, nee Mamilah. New houses flank the road, the corner with Shlomzion street (was that once named for Princess Mary?) is completely rebuilt, nicely finished stone. The convent where we watched the "little sisters of Jesus of Father De-Fuco" is still in place, but the street has been widened, the old Mensa and the stores below the convent are cleared away. Gone too is the house where Herzl stayed, the old sciences department and the stairs with the wall inscription "Holy Place--No Pissing Here." Instead, the north side of the street is occupied by a big underground garage, and south of it is a complex of very expensive low-rise townhouses. The area of the Tanous building is solidly built up.
By luck, we find a parking spot just below the convent, easy walking to Jaffa Gate. We walk up, past two begging women on the stairs, and enter the old city.
The place was crowded. This was the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and many Christian pilgrims were in town. We saw some unusual characters that day, including a man in sackcloth and a woman wearing a crown of thorns, walking barefoot in her savior's footsteps. We skipped the citadel--probably a mistake, the big advertisements were for a "Chihouli glass" art exhibit, but the place also has a nice museum. Instead we climbed to the wall and walked along it to Damascus Gate--a walk with many interesting views, once only seen by Jordanian soldiers. On the old city side, one mainly sees backyards, but there wasn't much of a chance to get off before the gate itself, where a patrol of three soldiers lounged on the roof.
Coming from Jaffa gate we were quickly swallowed by the Arab souk, a noisy, crowded place. Even watching out does not always help: Audrey was hit by a cart on bike whels, loaded high with boxes--a guy was rolling it down a sloping street, unable to see past the boxes, barely controlling the vehicle, probably not caring whom he hit. I entered some shops, but prices are wild. I paid 9 shekel for an olive wood cross for Julie, marked $25, for Julie, Russian cross I wanted to buy for Kolya (and nearly did) was too expensive. Audrey did not like this bargaining one bit, and I cannot blame her, nothing is what it seems and even Jewish merchants bargain.
Ultimately we came to Western Wall, through a tunnel with guards, where we had to pass a metal detector. The day was getting hot, and the wide area by the wall was crowded. A fence split it in two--the northern part, a bit more than the half, was reserved for men, and several arks along the wall held Torah scrolls. The other part was for women, and both parts had chairs scattered around, and were well attended: the partition was latticework, supposedly opaque, but kids were peeking through. A small Bar Mitzvah was held at the men's section, while in the women's section we noted some women getting out, walking slowly backwards so as not to turn their backs to the wall. A guard came by, wearing a uniform of the city, warning us not to take pictures--probably on account of the Sabbath.
But the Temple Mount was closed, and we were told it would only open in the afternoon. So we walked back through the Jewish quarter, seeing many "penguins" as Itamar called them, ultra-orthodox with white shirts, black coats, pants and hats, some with women wearing a kerchief on their head and a big load of kids. Did Ya'el Li'or now look like this, too?
We were getting hungry, but on a Sabbath in Jerusalem, especially during Passover, it is hard to get food except from gentiles. We elbowed our way back to Jaffa Gate through the other souk. The "Cardo" street was closed (though we could watch a family play ball near its end), so were all stores in the Jewish quarter, and we ended up with a hurried and greasy meal at "St Michael's Cafeteria" near the gate.
We then hurried back through the Armenian and Jewish quarters (much faster), past many more "penguins," back to the wall--but the Temple apparently was not going to open that day at all. So we returned, following the southern city wall--easy walking, for once. We could not walk on the wall itself, however, in spite of our tickets--we only saw a one-way exit gate from the ramparts. Little orthodox kids in white shirts and black pants, were easily crawling under it, but we couldn't follow them.
Audrey had heard Rachel Glick recommend the biblical zoo at the southwest end of the city, deep in the valley of the railroad (which no longer runs, but may resume). We drove there: when I was a student, this was far beyond any urban area, but Jerusalem had spread. The German colony and the train station were unchanged, but past them were houses, more houses and still more houses. We went past Katamon to "Begin Road", a freeway through the valleys below Beit HaKerem (on the second visit we took it back to the city entrance), past the huge "Teddy Kolek Stadium" in the railroad valley, then down past the last houses, and there was the zoo.
It is actually a nice place (though parking is tight on a Sabbath). Across the valley (Emek Refa'im, the valley of the giants) is a wildlife park with antelopes (Y'elim), and above it Giloh (Beit Jalla). It was fully worth the visit, a pretty landscaped park, with a lake in the middle (and "monkey islands" in them), even a small waterfall. We walked around the circuit: parrots and macaws, then a Syrian leopard, Syrian bear, lion (all these biblical) and many sorts of wild ungulates-Yachmur, Ya'el, Zvi, re'em. I no longer recall the English equivalents. Long straight horns, curly horns, massive horns... all creatures of the bible, as was the ostrich (ya'en) and elephant (shenhav). But going beyond the bible, the zoo also displayed giraffes, rhinos and zebras, even the cassowary, wallaby and emu. A nice place with walkways and a "Noah's Ark" at the end, hiding rest rooms, a buffet and some exhibits still in preparation. Itamar has been there before with his kids (also with Naftali and Joan Lavie), though some exhibits were new to him.
On the way back we ate dinner at Asa's on the Ashkalon crossroads, a fast food restaurant (oriental food, Passover not observed) very much in the US style--good food, huge portions, low prices, efficient waitresses in uniform and a constant crush of customers.
In the evening we were invited to Gabi's for dinner--including Pnina. Gabi's daughter Deganit was there, with her husband Yossi and sons Yanir, Elran (the soldier) and Dror. The house was vaguely familiar from my last visit-- pictures from Gabi's father's home on the wall, also a great collection of souvenir plates on the wall, from places all over Asia and Europe. Below them hung a small star of gray cardboard "Happy new year from Ya'el and Joel." Who was Joel? I asked innocently. Gabi explained he was the man with whom his daughter lived for a while, "the worst criminal you can imagine."
Before the dinner--cooked in part at least by Gabi--we were sitting around and talking, when Itamar who was standing outside came in an said "I think we see a comet--come look." I went out--I did not bring my glasses, but I could see a dimly lit object in the sky, with a long tail. It did not match any comet I had seen (and comets do not appear suddenly anyway), I looked for a long time and finally told Itamar, "I think it is a kite. Someone is flying a kite." Others looked again and agreed--probably a kite.
Dinner itself was sumptuous, too much food (especially after Asa's lunch), so I politely took just a little portion of most everything. We talked and talked--Yossi, hearing my work at NASA, asked me--do you think alien life exist? In Hebrew, alien life is "chai-zar". I said, it could be so, but we have no proof, and until we do, it would be wise to take better care of our planet. Gabi proudly showed us a bottle of Romanian wine which is approved for diabetics, and brought me a copy of his dad's autobiography (part German, part Hebrew)--to copy and return. He also told us that coming back from Beit Terezin on Friday, five minutes after we left him, he found an outstanding, wonderful restaurant.
This was to be a lazy day. We planned to walk the beach in Ashkalon, see the antiquities, view Gaza from a monument-tower built in memory of a Druze officer killed by an Arab sniper. Then tonight we were invited to a Bach concert in Dorot: we are on a vacation, after all
I woke at 7:30, and since Audrey had told me at night (when I was awake, too) that she had been up for hours, I let her sleep on--until about 9:30, it turned out.
Took shower, made coffee, ate half a matza and a big helping of strawberries (they are getting soft, must be finished today), and went to look up Yahel. His place is easy to find, the only house with 4 motorcycles parked at its eastern end--the one he uses, an old one--Vespa?--which he "sometimes used" and two retired Vespas, one a 1968 model. The door was locked-- it later turned out Yahel was taking shower. So I continued to Ori, where Itamar was staying--also easy to locate, by the porch-turned-into-room at the western end, with peeling paint around its large window. Itamar was there, lying in bed, wide awake but taking life easy. On the computer desk was Ori's homework in C++, coding matrix multiplication etc.--words in Hebrew I had never seen before, e.g. "default" (but have forgotten it now!).
We later called Yahel and arranged to meet in his room, where he made coffee and we talked. He planned to ride his motorcycle to Jerusalem (he shares a room in the dorms on Giv'at Ram, with a chemistry-physics major) to prepare for a test in pre-calculus, limits and infinite series. His first year has not been easy--he planned to repeat the course in mechanics, because he still did not feel he has a solid understanding of it. "When they show me a plans of the hydraulic system of an airplane, I look at it, understand, remember. But the problems I get, they are different.
" Did he try to organize his knowledge in written notes? "Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I am still experimenting" Neither has he decided which direction in physics he would take--"right now I am studying, that is enough." He keeps his options open, and will stay in email@example.com
We talked about Itamar--"When he was with Chen I would see him rarely, once a year, perhaps...they were yelling at each other a lot." I said I could not imagine Itamar yelling at anyone and he said, "well--maybe not yelling, but something like that." Now Yahel is coming back. According to Audrey (or Yahel?) Chen, the eldest son, told Itamar after the divorce "now you have your family back again." I had asked Itamar if he wanted to visit the US. Yes, definitely, and take more time looking at the different places, not just a rapid survey.
Yahel was also aware of his dad's health problems. "He always used to overeat."
Later I came back. Audrey and Itamar had finished breakfast and we went out--first to the monument of Lt. Col. Nab'ee M'ari, the highest Druze officer in Israel's army, killed by a sniper in Rafah in September 1996. A pretty hilltop garden with rock walls and walks, and a monument--only problem, the centerpiece, a transplaneted olive tree, had died, it came from M'ari's family yard in Churfeish and was of the same age as the deceased. Off to the side was a metal tower, like a gazebo, an overlook for viewing Gaza, whose border was about 1000' to the east. Standing guard on the tower was a young Druze soldier--I thought he wasJewish since he was eating Matzah, and wished him a happy holiday, but his name is Adhem Abbas, P.O.B. 28, Gat in (Western) Galilee, Israel 25251. I know these details because I took his picture and promised a copy. Audrey asked how long his shift was. "I come at 6 and leave at 1", even hours. "Isn't it boring?" "Yes it is, but what can one do? (Mah la'asot?)."
Later he said, in conversation, "the most important thing is, that there will be peace" (ha-ikar she-yih'yeh shalom"). I asked, "do you think there will be peace?" He said, "No, there will be war. In two-three years, over water." Could be.
Gaza is not the city I remember from 16 years ago: high-rise buildings rise above it, and white apartment blocks also stand in Jabaliya at the north end of the strip. But Palestinians have no income except what they earn in Israel, or in the Emirates of the Persian Gulf. Not a good situation. They nowadays use a road between Gaza, passing near Erez and going through a junction near Ashkalon, to Tarkumiya and Hebron. Palestinian cars (green license plates) can use it in convoys under escort, and it is open for selected taxi cabs, painted yellow like cabs in the US. The Gaza Strip itself has Israeli enclaves--a small strip near Rafiah, and other small bits.
And yet, maybe that is where the best hope lies, as Jews and Arabs begin to depend on each other. If an economic crunch takes place--e.g. fuel shortage--the two communities may feel pushed together by necessity. I asked Itamar if such a possibility worried him--asked it after a visit to "Mevaseret Yerushalayim", a totally urban suburb on the north side of Mt. Castel, streets and more streets (incl. Oren Street--took picture of the sign), totally dependent on commuting.
No, that did not worry him. "If there is no oil, we will find something else--maybe solar energy." What worried him was the future of Erez as a kibbutz, as young people evaporate into the city and the average age keeps creeping up. Inequality has come to the kibbutz--some people inherit money and use it to travel abroad every year, others feel left out. I told him--and this morning, Yahel--that Erez seemed surprisingly unchanged as a kibutz. "Yes" said Yahel, "compared to other kibutzim, Erez is indeed stable." Some kibutzim have apparently voluntarily dissolved, by a vote of the majority of their members.
From the monument Itamar took us to Netivot, to the tomb of Baba Sali, a Morrocan "holy man" whose tomb--in the middle of a hall in a special building--has become a place of pilgrimage.
It was an eye opener to the "other Israel" we know so little about. We arived through the quiet city cemetery-- boxy stone graves, and a quiet square stone building with sloping walls, quiet and cool, holding the grave of another holy man. Here and there stood steel boxes with chimneys, on pedestals at table height, for burning candles in memory of the deceased.
On the other side of the cemetery (with a separate entrance) was the Baba Sali compound. What noise, what commotion! Many cars, some buses, stands selling souvenirs, a big fire inside a candle-burning box (people just threw memorial candles into it), and a low but wide stone building with a smaller tomb-structure in the middle. Men were praying fervently all over that hall, while a separate entrance admitted women, to a hall from which the tomb was not even visible. Itamar explained that Baba Sali was indeed a pious, holy man, but his son who is now building his career on the old man's memory is just a callous operator, who clothes himself in impressive priestly garb and collects cash from the pious and gullible.
We then went to Ashkalon. I thought we might see the antiquities and walk along the beach, but Itamar first wanted to show us the newest section of Ashkalon and the port for pleasure craft "where Ilana and Britt would be welcome" if they ever came this far. We entered by the Zikim power station (it has its own railroad spur, for coal trains) and passed a nice new industrial area, then came block after block of housing. Ashkalon, like all of Israel's city, has spread out, and has added big buildings. Compared to those, the one where Pninah once lived (we also passed that part) looked rather small and shabby.
Itamar drove north, and the city just marched on. When we stopped at the end of the road, I joked to Itamar saying "Ashdod can't be far from here" and he said "No, it isn't, and you can see its houses"--and there they were, visible through the haze, not too many miles up the coast.
A bit short of the end was a new Holiday Inn, a strange spherical building perched on the sands, like a giant apple or orange--and when we came nearer we could see that a slice was taken out of that apple, a wedge to let in air and light.
A bit further south was the port, a breakwater shielding a big basin in which quite a large number of sailing boats was anchored. A wheeled contraption stood on a slipway, a frame for lifting boats from the water, it was straddling one of them. The guard at the gate, an older man, was reading a Russian book. On the road to the rear construction work was proceeding at a furious rate, for a giant block of luxury apartments ovelooking the basin.
We then drove home: it was getting a bit late, we still had the concert at night, and I wanted to see Pnina and record her story on tape.
Alizah Schiller had called (Beit Terezin, 06-636-9515) and I called back. She talked to Liesel: she has nothing against me--she was not angry that I did not tell her in advance about the book, maybe more so about revealing her interview to others. (I asked Aliza if she wanteda transcript for Beit Terezin, considering what Liesel had said:: she said--it was part of the record, yes she wanted it, but she will seal it, "ani egnoz et zeh").
However, Liesel did not want to be reminded of the war time, did not want anything that reminded her of it. There was also a matter of resenting my grandmother--maybe--as displacing her own grandmother, who had died. Something that happened when she was 2 years old? (Could not be that marriage--around 1902, Liesel was born maybe 1921-2 or so). But maybe her own mother resented it. Alizah could not make out much of what Liesel had said, but said I should probably drop the matter--it was not a personal grudge against me.
I then went to Pnina and taped about one hour--very interesting, starting when she was a little girl and the family escaped from Russia, crossing to Romania at night over a frozen river. She is visibly aged, but full of spirit. Her computer frustrates her--but we had little time, and I could not fix the problem (it was a Windows type, anyway).
The concert in Dorot was very nice. Itamar drove one of the passenger vans of the kibbutz, because he had to take two women, two additional passengers. Gabi and Rachel also attended and sat close to us. The concert hall was nice and intimate, orchestra very good, and the entire program was devoted to Bach, played by the Kibbutz orchestra. "We come here to celebrate the death of Bach, who passed away 250 years ago" said the conductor in his introduction. It was a sampler of all that Bach wrote--including Brandenburg Concerto 3, Suite 3 (I think), another concert and some choral pieces, including a long one for Easter "When Jesus lay dying." It was strange to hear such music on a kibbutz, but the choir was very good. Itamar used to sing on such a choir, too, and he pointed out his choir conductor in the audience. The concert had an intermission for refreshments and conversation, and when it was over, Itamar drove us back while the orchestra also dispersed, each member to his or her village (although these days, some members live in Tel Aviv).
We returned to Jerusalem, taking a different road, not the main one but the old road through Ramat Raziel, along which the new pipeline to Jerusalem was laid in 1948. Now the hills are thickly wooded, and on one peak Itamar took a side road to show us the "Scroll of Fire" monument, a tall monument cast of bronze, in two parts. The outside has various visions of soldiers, scholars, farmers etc. striving upwards, while on the inside are quotes from Ezechiel's vision of the dry bones, in Hebrew and in English. The view would have been magnificent, were it not for the haze: we have come too late in the year.
Later we stopped at another mmorial on "Pilots' mountain" where Air Force recruits are sworn in. Then we drove past Tzova, down to the valley of EinKarem and uphill again beneath the great hospital: Itamar said he often passed this way with Bracha, who received treatment in Ein Karem. We passed Ein Karem, now a fir-sized town, climbed the slope up Mt. Herzl, and suddenly the stone houses of Jerusalem again filled the view.
We had been invited by Joan and Naftali Lavi, Chen's parents, to their home at 17 Mechalkei HaMayim, Katamon, just a short distance east of the San Simeon monastery. It is a beautiful old house, its insides completely rebuilt to create just three large apartments: the Lavi apartment has parts on three levels.
Naftali is a former ambassador, who later worked for the UJA, and now is concerned with restitution of Jewish property from East Europe. Joan sounded British, and their daughter-in-law Varda was also visiting. Varda lives in Hodayah, a religious bedroom community south of the Netofah valley--her husband is in charge of community activities (I believe) in the southern Jordan valley and "Eastern Samaria", a long commute, and they have 5 kids. We had stopped there on the way back from the Galilee, but only the kids were at home.
Very nice people, long conversation. Joan had made a cake with strawberries, and showed us a picture of her 13 grandkids (2 + 5 + 6) sitting together on a staircase in their house. Discussed many things, but now I can't recall much. Naftali said Israel's government had now surplus, budget of 52 BNS, annually it gets from US 1.4 B$ for military aid (which must be spent in the US), and 1.6 B$ in miscellaneous grants... with some strings attached. Imports have recently dropped. And why was I interested in science education? I then told them about my web work. And so on...
I asked about the Beit Turjeman museum, north of Damascus Gate. According to the guide, it had an exhibit on the social seams in Israel society--the fault lines between Jew and Arab, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, etc. Naftali said he knew none of this, in his recollection that house had an exhibit on the battle of Jerusalem, "but the people did not get enough money, so now it may be different."
A few days earlier Audrey read about a crafts fair on Safra Square, and since we still had to by presents to bring back home, she made sure it was on our program. Safra Square was not on our map, and turned out to be the interior courtyard of the Jerusalem Municipal building, a gleaming structure of white stone, just outside the NW corner of the old city wall. We parked in the basement--parking was free--and took the elevator up.
The place was hopping, crafts from the entire country were represented, and we seemed to hear more English than Hebrew--from both customers and crafts people. Now and then someone was trying out a trumpet at the far end (Itamar: "I can get the same sound with a water pipe"). Shofaroth were also sold, and in general many of the goods were religious--mezuzoth, for instance. In the end Audrey bought door chimes whose wooden sounding box was shaped like the good-luck "Chamsa" handprint, made by Peter Isakovich and his wife, who had just left a kibbutz (Kefar Blum?) and settled in Karkom, near Rosh Pinah. I got silk some screen prints of Jerusalem, and one of the Sea of Galilee (Mt. Hermon in the back), to give to Pnina.
Itamar waited patiently and later walked down with us to Zion Square. The lion of St. Mark still stands atop the "Generali" building, but the Zion cinema has been gobbled up by a tall office building. The triangle of Ben Yehudah street is now a "Midrachov," a pedestrian mall, chock-full of people. We sat down at an "Argentinian" restaurant, saw the menu prices, walked out again--then the head waiter came to us and offered a "businessman lunch" for 50 NIS, also saying it was not on the menu and we should not talk about it within earshot of others. Well--OK, but for 25 minutes afterwards no one came to serve anything. I complained, and suddenly, everything appeared in good order, meat too red perhaps (I should have ordered chicken like Itamar who is not supposed to eat red meat) but we were all quite hungry. On the way back I bought for Zoe a leather kippah with the teletubbies.
Then it was Itamar's turn: for the best view of Jerusalem, he said, we should go to the new promenade in Talpiyot, near the High Commisioner's palace which is still used by UN. He took us there and as promised the view was great, the city stretched below us, a wide view with the golden Dome of the Rock in center.
The promenade--built with the donations of various people abroad--is built of Jerusalem limestone and is quite long. It had many visitors, from "Shesh Besh" (backgammon) players near where we entered, to a far-eastern (Phillipino? Indonesian?) choir singing Christian hymns on the background of the old city and clapping in unison at appropriate times, while a TV camera recorded their performance. Itamar listened to them carefully--he himself used to sing in a choir--and pronounced them good.
On the way back we passed a Morrocan Jewish group on a picnic--with music, drum and two women who danced, very nice. Two Arab women passed and greeted a little old lady, who thanked them (in Arabic) but said she was a Yemenite (Jew), not Arab. We also saw a "penguin" family with kids, the husband wearing black hat and fringes was taking pictures of the others. And many, many more people.
To leave jerusalem Itamar chose yet another way--when he was driving Bracha, he said, he also varied the route. He drove toward Betlehem, past Mar Elias, giving us a brief glimpse of that city (so many high rise buildings!), then turned off west to a bypass road, out of sight of Betlehem. The road passed two tunnels and a bridge over the gully between them, then came to crossroads we turned west, towards Upper Beitar and then the valley of Elah where David and Goliath fought.
From there Itamar drove south, and the land for once seemed remarkably unchanged from what the way I saw it 45 years ago--fields of grain, olive trees, the Tel of Lachish. We passed Gat, now an industrial city, passed the railroad to Beer Sheva and Cheletz. As the day was getting late, Itamar took a short-cut through Or Haner, the Kibbutz which partners with Erez, then found his gate-opening radio had a cracked case and needed some persuasion to work. With darkness falling we rolled into Erez,
Tuesday 25 April
I am sitting in the waiting area at gate 33, Ben Gurion Airport, the laptop plugged into an electric outlet which a guard showed me. We have plenty of time: the 5:45 plane is delayed by about an hour and a half, and it's only 4:14. We slept late last night--I was dead tired, and if Audrey had not woken me up at 7:15, could have slept another hour. It is part of getting older
We ate leisurely, then Audrey started packing and I walked down to Itamar, down past the dining room and downhill on the main walkway. Itamar was just leaving--then his phone rang, he turned around, and by the time he got out again I was waiting near his door. He had to take Barak this morning to a counselor in Sha'ar Hanegev--but not yet, he had enough time for coffee and matzah. Any problem with Barak, I asked. "Nothing beyond what you expect of a kid his age whose parents are divorced."
Barak is in 6th grade, same grade as I was the year I spent with Pnina and Gabi (then known as Pitti). Would he like to visit America, I asked him last night. Yes!! "If you went, what would you like to se?" --"Los Angeles!" I told him Los Angeles was just like the Tel Aviv area, only 5-6 times bigger, with a lot of houses and traffic. What would you do there? --"Go shopping!" (la'aroch kniyot). Any other place? "Maybe New York." At this point Itamar commented that Barak probably knew very little about what there was in America.
I said, America had a lot more, high mountains and seashore, "which do you like more?" --"Mountains." "In Colorado, there are mountains like the Hermon!" Barak then added "even higher !" and I confirmed.
Maya also came for a visit in the evening, and I can see some of the problems Itamar has with his former wife. Chen had bought Maya new sandals, which the girl proudly displayed, "because the old ones chafed," and she showed a red spot on her ankle, caused by those sandals. Itamar: "So what? Bring me the old sandals and I will fix them." Chen also bought Maya an inexpensive electronic watch, and that evening she phoned again and again, asking him (I think) to share the cost; presumably in the end one of them gave up or declared a truce. "Now you see what I went through" he told us. However, the watch came without an instruction booklet, so now Maya brought it to Itamar to set the time.
It was not easy, and in the end he gave it to me, and I tried to analyze the functions of the various buttons, succeeding only partially: the time and date were OK, but a bell showed in one corner and I was unable to remove it, nor could I get it out of the 24-hour mode. The time was a little after 9 pm, so I put what I thought was the alarm setting at 21:05--it did not ring, so maybe all was OK. All that was last night, when we talked for a while. I told Itamar about his mother's interest in a computer course starting Sunday in Sha'ar Hanegev--"maybe you can take it together, so she will have transportation." He will talk to Pnina about it.
This morning, after Barak came and Itamar took off with him, I called David Gil for a final good-bye (03-642-9511, apt. 47, Recanati 12, Ramat Aviv Gimel 69494; this morning I saw in a supplement to Ha'aretz that such apartments typically went for $300-400,000). He wasn't not home, left message. Then Pnina called: she would like to say good-bye. "Should I come to you, or you come to me?" We had seen Pnina limp with her cane, so Audrey and I left a note to Itamar and went down to Pnina's unit. She saw us coming and opened the door: Shalom!
The picture I bought in Jerusalem--the sea of Galilee and Mt. Hermon, as viewed perhaps from Belvoir on a very clear day, or maybe from Poriya, in either case highly stylized and with lines outlined in gold--was leaning against a vase on the bookcase. On her wall, she showed us three pictures (pastels) by Heini Szador and one of flowers by Gabi. Also a sparse picture of conductor and orchestra--just a few lines--by Tilly, and another one like that, and one in sepia pastel by Ya'el Li'or. Pnina also showed us 3 volumes of Grimm's tales, illustrated by Ya'el, in rather crude woodcuts, a few of them in color.
We talked about this and that, and Gabi called for a final farewell. "We will keep a better contact in the future." (But he lacks e-mail, "we have 3 computers, but they are busy with other things."). Then Itamar and Barak came and we decided to go together to lunch. The fare was chicken steak (thin layers) wrapped in "matzah-brei" (very good!) with rice and salads.
The timing of lunch was good--we ran into Yahel who had come back from Jerusalem. "Good!" said Itamar, "he can fix my radio!" But not today--when the kibbutz heard he had come back, it conscripted him to run the loudspeaker system for the "Omer ceremony" at 6 pm today. He had eaten, but came back to the table to sit next to his dad, discussing diesel generators, I think. Chen (the boy) also arrived, a bit unshaven, wearing a T-shirt with an American flag and eagle, and the words "Peace" and "America." Later Ori appeared, wearing a pistol, since he was on security duty. Every member had one, and it was worn when working in the fields facing Gaza, Itamar said, even though security was good these days. So counting Maya who waved to us from her mother's porch, we saw all Ben-Aris kids except for Yaniv, whose whereabouts no one knew. I made use of the occasion to bring the camera and take some last pictures of the family. Yahel promised to send some hard problems. "I will try" I said, I can always excuse myself by saying I was too far from the material of his lessons. We said good-bye to Pnina and the boys and walked slowly back up to the room. A few last-minute chores and we rolled the suitcases to the road, while Itamar went to fetch the car.
The trip back went smoothly, except for one anxious moment--I looked in the backpack for the envelope with our tickets, and it was missing. We were already near Rishon LeZion, and Itamar stopped in the shade of an overpass while traffic whizzed by us. Whoosh, what speed! He opened the trunk and I searched the big suitcase, quickly finding the tickets among other papers. Back to the car, Audrey and I joked about the incident. Soon we were at the Chiriya interchange with Rte. 1, and it took only a few minutes more to reach the airport. Last good-byes to Itamar, hugs, kisses, then he drove away--no good parking, and anyway, as it turned out, we were soon separated from non-passengers at the entrance to the long waiting room.
We were on time but the plane was not--so now, at 5:36 when the plane should be fully boarded, we still have an hour to wait
As I get ready to leave, my overwhelming emotion is one of fatigue. It was above all a family visit, and it focused on our relatives. One thing we learned is that raising kids in Israel was as uncertain and unpredictable as in America, maybe even more so.
Israel has developed tremendously since I last saw it, with high-speed limited access highways, factories and shopping malls ("canyons") everywhere. People seem busy. When I asked Naftali Lavi how his great city of Jerusalem (pop. 650,000 or so) made a living, he said "one third in government, one third in tourism and industry, one third parasites." Parasites presumably included the characters in black and white garb with fringes hanging out the front of their shirts, who live in Jerusalem to study the Talmud.
New housing is everywhere: on the Carmel, around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in the new city of Modi'in near Latrun (maybe 50,000 souls), even Ramat Yishai has become urban. Everywhere one sees "villas" which may cost half a million dollars (all prices are quoted in dollars)--nicely built houses, better than ours in the US, at least those I saw from the inside in Ramat Yishai. Yet it all seems so precarious. You need a car to get anywhere, as one does in the US, and I shudder about what might happen if gas grew scarce, as is bound to happen.
The world is getting crowded--Jewish Israel is densely inhabited, and in Arab Palestine, which we did not see (except for a distant glimpse of Gaza, and a brief one of Betlehem) space must be much tighter. Things are also worse elsewhere--or else, why would workers from Romania, Thailand, Turkey and the Phillipines come to Israel, to do manual work for some $1000/month? In Romania, someone told us, the average monthly wage was $140.
I dread whatever may come if the trend continues. The US is better prepared than Israel--which may be in better shape than others, but is still vulnerable, and has the additional threat of war. Itamar and his kids are probably better prepared for adversity than Jonathan's kids, who in their turn are much better off than Rachel's. When we were alone, Audrey and I once or twice hugged and told each other how fortunate we are. Visiting Israel teaches the same lesson I learned when I joined the army--how other people live, and how one should appreciate things taken for granted.
What will become of Jewish culture and tradition? I don't know, the gap between the orthodox population and the secular one is huge, with very little in between. Yesterday Naftali quoted to us a secular friend, who said he never attended synagogue services. "The orthodox synagogue is the only one I do not attend. The others do not even count." Ben Chorin's Beit El still exists, now led by his son, but the movement it started has not spread, Naftali told us.
There are glimmerings of spirit--the Bach concert in Dorot was great (if not really Jewish), a Pessach song program on TV by a Jerusalem group, around the song of Solomon, sounded nice (even though Itamar pronounced it phony, "a chiltur," and its songs were from 50s and 60s). New books appear (Itamar had by his bed "Return from India" by A.B. Yehoshua), but one sees few people reading. Education may still be good--Itamar's bookshelf had a book of problems given to high school graduates in their "psychometric" tests, and they seemed more rigorous than those in SAT questions in the US--but such a brief visit tells very little.
Israel is ethnically diverse, and Arabs (Israeli ones) are now also recognized as an important part of the mix; yet I am reminded of the old saying, "Israel is not a melting pot-it is a pressure cooker." The pressure is still high, maybe rising. Will there be peace? As long as Israel stays strong, probably yes. I am glad I am not a Palestinian Arab, though--they are going through a process which, as Itamar observed correctly, Jews know very well. And their stress grows with their numbers. Will there be peace? Inshallah! I do hope so.
Author and Curator: Dr. David P. Stern
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